ICIJ’s “Offshore Leaks” probe has ignited reactions around the globe – sparking official investigations, sweeping policy changes and high-profile resignations.
Since the series of stories – based on a leak of 2.5 million secret offshore records – began rolling out in April 2013, responses have come rapidly, from India, Mongolia, France and dozens of other nations. The European Union’s top tax official has called Offshore Leaks “the most significant trigger” behind Europe’s newfound resolve to crack down on offshore hideaways and global tax dodging.
“We're in a completely different context today” because of the Offshore Leaks revelations, Belgium’s secretary of state said. “It’s a new world.”
Among the latest impacts and responses:
- In one of the first decisions by the new Indian government, led by newly-elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a special task force has been set up to find and seize "black money" - cash that has been hidden away, mostly in foreign banks, in order to avoid taxes. The Special Investigation Team (SIT) will be led by retired Supreme Court judge MB Shah, and will hold its first meeting in the first week of June.
The SIT will focus on money hidden both within India and abroad. Sources within the Finance Ministry told the Hindustan Times the team would investigate both the 700 names included in a list of private HSBC Bank Geneva account holders given to India by French authorities, and the more than 600 Indian citizens and companies included in ICIJ's Offshore Leaks database.
According to some estimates there is as much as $2 trillion at stake for India, which analysts say has contributed to widening inequality in the nation of more than 1.2 billion people.
- The United Kingdom has vowed to push ahead with its plan for a new public register on company ownership to track beneficial owners of British companies. The move, first announced by Prime Minister David Cameron in mid-2013, will force companies to provide details about individuals with an interest in more than 25 percent of shares or with voting rights or control of how a company is run. The information would need to be updated at least once every 12 months, and would include details such as the name, date of birth, and nationality of the owners. New legislation will also limit situations where corporate entities can be listed as directors of other companies. British business secretary Vince Cable said the register will end "the darker side of capitalism".
- Public registries listing real, flesh-and-blood owners of companies and trusts are a step closer in the EU after the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of new anti-money laundering laws today. The measure will crack down on individuals and companies that hide assets in secretive offshore entities, which have often been linked to tax evasion, money laundering and corruption. The use of offshore havens by prominent European politicians and business leaders was revealed last year by ICIJ’s Offshore Leaks investigation. “Crucial facilitators of illicit money flows are secretive corporate structures operating in and through secrecy jurisdiction, often also referred to as tax havens,” state the proposed new rules.
The resolutions – one on anti-money laundering rules and the other on closer vigilance of fund transfers – were approved by committees in February, and in March passed through the European Parliament by 643 votes to 30 and 627 votes to 33 respectively. The draft legislation will be handed over to the next Parliament for further action after elections in May, but will require the support of member states for implementation should the new rules be approved. So far, only the UK has formally pledged to create a public ownership registry of companies.
A leading political party in Taiwan vowed to promote a new measure to crack down on offshore tax avoidance as its top agenda item. The Democratic Progressive Party,Taiwan’s leading opposition party, said that it would seek to pass an amendment to Taiwan’s Income Tax Act prohibiting corporations from using overseas subsidiaries and paper companies to avoid taxation. The proposal came days after ICIJ and its partner in Taiwan, CommonWealth Magazine, revealed that more than 16,000 Taiwanese, including more than a dozen billionaire family owners of some of Taiwan’s largest corporations, owned offshore companies.
The tax commissioner of China, Wang Jun, pledged that China would step up its participation in international efforts to combat tax evasion and crack down on tax fraud within the nation. The move came as Chinese authorities were still scrambling to block internet access in China to the China Leaks reports by ICIJ and its partners.
- Chinese authorities moved aggressively to block online access to news reports exposing the secrecy-cloaked offshore holdings of China’s political and financial elites. Censorship of the latest investigation, which draws on previously secret records of nearly 22,000 clients with addresses in mainland China and Hong Kong, was unusual in its broad international scope. In addition to ICIJ’s own website, Chinese authorities blocked the sites of ICIJ publishing partners including Spain’s El País, Le Monde, Süddeutsche Zeitung in Germany, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., and the U.K. and U.S. editions of The Guardian, according to reports from news organizations and analytics by GreatFire.org.
In Beijing, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Qin Gang dismissed the story calling it “hardly convincing” and said it raises “suspicions over the motives behind it."
- Incorporations of new offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands declined sharply last year, falling 21 percent from 2012. The change echoes a recent report by the company Offshore Incorporations Limited that found that ICIJ's Offshore Leaks had created a "crisis of confidence" in the offshore industry, with more than three-quarters of the offshore professionals it surveyed said that ICIJ’s stories have reduced demand for offshore financial vehicles or prompted clients to move their business from one haven to another. Most of the secret accounts exposed by Offshore Leaks were incorporated in the BVI.
- The recent attention to financial secrecy has also prompted the BVI and the Cayman Islands to enter into consultations on whether they should develop a registry that reveals the real owners of companies incorporated there, known as a “beneficial ownership” registry. UK Prime Minister David Cameron has been pressing British territories such as the BVI and the Caymans to improve their financial transparency, and pledged last fall to make the UK the first country in the world to create a publicly available beneficial ownership registry. A recent paper issued by the BVI solicited comments from the public and “in particular” the financial services industry on whether it should create an ownership registry.
The number of Germans voluntarily disclosing secret offshore accounts tripled in 2013, according to the chairman of the German tax union, Thomas Eigenthaler. The disclosures are expected to result in a surge of revenue to the German treasury. Eigenthaler said that ICIJ’s Offshore Leaks investigation was a major factor that sparked the increased disclosures, as well as the admission by a prominent soccer club manager and former star player that he had a secret bank account in Switzerland.
The Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, Igor Shuvalov, has repatriated his and his wife’s offshore assets to comply with a Russian law prohibiting state officials from holding their wealth abroad. An offshore company belonging to Shuvalov’s wife, Olga Shuvalov, was revealed in April by ICIJ. Shuvalov, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, had pledged to return the assets to Russia soon after they were exposed.
The move comes during a broad crackdown on offshore tax avoidance by Putin. Last week, Putin announced that Russian-owned companies registered in offshore jurisdictions would be forced to pay Russian taxes, and that companies registered abroad would be barred from getting funding from the budget or from state banks.
The European Parliament voted last week to strengthen its requirements for automatic exchange of tax data between EU member nations. The new rules, approved by 360 votes to 59, will require nations to collect and share data by 2017 on additional types of income such as employment, property and capital gains. In endorsing the measure, the Parliament voted to reject the “availability principle,” which would limit nations’ data sharing obligations to information that they decided independently to collect.
“This important measure… responds to the challenges raised by [ICIJ's] Offshore Leaks and the staggering €1 trillion annual losses of tax revenues in the EU,” stated a summary of the reform that was prepared by the European Parliament’s Green Party.
The Danish Tax Minister announced a plan to crack down on offshore tax havens on the day after the last of a four-part series of documentaries about tax havens was aired by ICIJ's Danish partner, DR Documentary at Danish Broadcasting Corporation. Danish tax authorities will devote $7.3 million to pursue both individuals who hide money offshore and their professional advisers. The plan is expected to result in "a substantial number of new cases about illegal use of tax havens," said Holger K. Nielsen, the Danish Tax Minister.
The documentaries exposed reliance on offshore havens by a leading Danish bank as well as a major law firm. One film used a hidden camera to reveal Jyske Bank, Denmark's third largest bank, advising an undercover journalist posing as a wealthy client to stash his money offshore in a plan that experts described as immoral and in some parts illegal. Others revealed the offshore tax advice given by Bech-Bruun, one of Denmark's leading law firms, and by the massive accounting firm EY.
- Authorities in Ireland have recovered 4.3 million euros in settlements after receiving offshore tax data shared by French authorities, and are expecting “a very significant amount of data” on offshore holdings from the governments of U.S., Britain and Australia. The French data was obtained from Herve Falciani, a whistleblower and former employee of HSBC. Much of the data from the U.S., Britain and Australia was initially unveiled in Offshore Leaks.
- The Colombian government announced new regulations that will slap a 33-percent tax on financial transactions between Colombian companies or individuals and third parties in 44 countries identified as tax havens. “The party is over for those who were taking advantage of tax havens,” Mauricio Cárdenas, the country´s economics minister, told local journalists.
Colombia’s top tax official, Juan Ricardo Ortega, said ICIJ’s Offshore Leaks stories “without doubt helped the government push forward regulations” that had been blocked for nearly a decade. The secret offshore files obtained by ICIJ revealed that the sons of former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe were shareholders in a British Virgin Islands company.
Tax authorities in India say they have sent notices to more than 500 individuals whose offshore holdings were revealed earlier this year by ICIJ and The Indian Express. These individuals included two members of Parliament and several prominent industrialists, and the inquiries from the income tax department seek details and transactions of their offshore companies and trusts. A new list of individuals with offshore holdings found in the Offshore Leaks database was also published earlier this week, and included a decorated former civil service officer and the wife of Delhi’s energy secretary.
- South Korean authorities announced they had uncovered evidence that the family of former dictator Chun Doo-Hwan had engaged in illegal offshore transactions. Earlier this year, ICIJ and the Korea Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that Chun’s son, Chun Jae-kook, had a secret offshore company in the British Virgin Islands. On October 8 the Korea Customs Service announced that it had found that offshore companies held by Chun’s family, including those belonging to Chun Jae-Kook, were involved in illegal foreign currency transactions. The Korea Customs Service said the transactions were intended to evade taxes and that it had informed Korean state prosecutors of its findings. The developments are the latest in a series of responses to ICIJ and the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism’s reporting, which have also included raids by Korean prosecutors on both men’s homes and an agreement by Chun’s family to pay $154 million in fines.
The Anti-Corruption Commission in Bangladesh decided on September 30 to open an investigation into the offshore activities of Kazi Zafarullah, a leading member of Bangladesh’s governing Awami League political party. In July, ICIJ and its reporting partners at the Bangladeshi daily New Age revealed that Zafarullah and his wife, Nilufer Zafar, were directors and shareholders of two offshore companies. The couple had also opened a joint account at the Singaporean branch of the Swiss bank UBS AG. The Anti-Corruption Commission decided to investigate Zafarullah’s activities after a two-month assessment of ICIJ and New Age’s findings, an official with the commission said.
The son of disgraced former South Korean president Chun Doo-hwan issued a public apology and vowed that his family would pay the government $154 million in fines related to corruption during Chun’s rule. Prior to the announcement, the former dictator’s family had claimed for years that Chun was bankrupt and unable to pay the fines. But earlier this year, ICIJ and the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism revealed that Chun’s son, Chun Jae-kook, had a secret offshore company in the British Virgin Islands. Chun Jae-kook denied any connection between his offshore holdings and his father, but South Korean prosecutors recently raided both men’s homes in a search for hidden assets.
Members of the G20 announced new measures to combat offshore tax evasion, including a plan to automatically share tax data among G20 nations by the end of 2015. Today’s G20 Leaders Declaration, released from a summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, also pledged the G20’s assistance to developing countries seeking to establish automatic tax information sharing, but stopped short of providing a timeline for doing so. According to the advocacy group Global Financial Integrity, illicit financial flows cost developing countries nearly $6 trillion between 2001 and 2010.
South Korea has ordered 11 individuals named in the Offshore Leaks investigation to pay a total of $64.6 million for using offshore paper companies to evade taxes. According to Yonhap News Agency, South Korea’s state news service, the country’s National Tax Service reviewed a list of Koreans suspected of running paper companies in offshore locales that was published by ICIJ and the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism. Thirty-nine of those individuals were chosen for further investigation, and today’s news marks the completion of 11 of those cases.
The Premier of the British Virgin Islands, Orlando Smith, said his government has entered into talks with the US Treasury about compliance with a US law designed to crack down on offshore tax evasion. The British Virgin Islands is one of the world's biggest offshore trust jurisdictions, with 30,000 people and more than 500,000 registered companies. Thousands of the secret offshore documents revealed by ICIJ related to dealings that were conducted under the laws of the British Virgin Islands.
- India's Minister of State for Finance, Shri J.D. Seelam, in charge of the revenue, confirmed in a written response to Parliament that income tax authorities are investigating the information published by ICIJ on Indian citizens with connections to offshore companies, including two members of Parliament. One of them denied any relationship with the entity in ICIJ’s Offshore Leaks Database. The finance minister had previously said that "not a single case" would go unpursued.
- The OECD has proposed what Bloomberg News describes as “a blueprint” for cracking down on tax-dodging strategies used by international companies such as Google, Apple and Yahoo. The new report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development was released during a meeting in Moscow of the Group of 20 government finance and banking authorities. AFP reports the move, in part, follows widespread public anger over the “Offshore Leaks” revelations.
- South Korean authorities have raided the home of former President Chun Doo-hwan along with businesses connected to his eldest son. Some 90 prosecutors, tax collectors and investigators ransacked the former president’s home in Seoul, carrying away paintings and other big-ticket items, The New York Timesreported. The raids come in the wake of an investigation by ICIJ and its “Offshore Leaks” reporting partner, the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism, into the offshore activities of the older son, Chun Jae-kook.
- Australian tax authorities said they are stepping up efforts to crack down on corporate tax dodging and taking a hard look at wealthy Australians and small companies with offshore holdings following “Offshore Leaks”. The Australian Tax Office’s plan includes 680 reviews and 115 audits of individuals and small businesses suspected of using offshore hideaways help them avoid taxes.
India’s Finance Minister said government probes into the offshore holdings of hundreds of Indians have made significant headway. “I am reviewing the progress every fortnight and can say that not a single case will go unpursued,” Finance Minister P Chidambaram said. The government’s effort was sparked by a joint investigation by ICIJ and The Indian Express.
- In the wake of ICIJ’s reporting about large numbers of Israelis using tax havens, a top tax official says Israel is stepping up efforts to crack down on offshore tax dodging. Israel Tax Authority chief Moshe Asher urged citizens with money hidden offshore to voluntary declare these funds. “If you have black money abroad now is the time to report it,” he said. Asher noted that the authority is setting up a unit of analysts who will focus on tracking down black capital overseas.
- A joint declaration by the G8 leaders at their Northern Ireland summit has agreed to an automatic exchange of tax information and to share ownership information of offshore companies and trusts with tax authorities, but these registers will not be made public. The declaration also says the use of bearer shares and nominee shareholders and directors "should be prevented."
- Leaders of Britain’s overseas territories – long known as key cogs in the global tax haven system – have agreed to begin sharing tax information with other countries. UK Prime Minister David Cameron said officials from Britain’s network of territories and dependencies have pledged to sign on to an international convention that provides for automatic exchange of information among tax authorities. “I commend their leadership and I look to other international partners to work with their own territories to reach similar agreements,” Cameron said. He called the agreement a “very positive step forward” in the fight to ensure that “those who want to evade taxes have nowhere to hide.” The British Virgin Islands, Bermuda and other UK overseas territories and dependencies also agreed to begin working to remove the veil of secrecy that often hides who owns offshore companies, Cameron said.
Philippine authorities said the launch of ICIJ’s Offshore Leaks Database will prompt them to review the tax records of Philippine residents whose names appear in the data. Kim Jacinto-Henares, commissioner of the country’s Bureau of Internal Revenue said she welcomes the public release of the database, saying it can aid the agency’s efforts to gather information that could lead to tax investigations and cases. “We will look into it and match (the information on Philippine residents in the database) with income tax returns,” Henares told the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, an ICIJ reporting partner.
- EU Commissioner Algirdas Semeta says the Offshore Leaks investigation by ICIJ and its partners has transformed tax politics and amplified political will to tackle the problem of tax evasion.
"I personally think Offshore Leaks could be identified as the most significant trigger behind these developments ... It has created visibility of the issue and it has triggered political recognition of the amplitude of the problem", he told EU Observer. He added that tax transparency overrides the principle of data privacy.
- South Korean financial regulators have opened an investigation into possible illicit fund transfers by hundreds of Koreans whose names are included in ICIJ’s “Offshore Leaks” database. “We will investigate every one of them,” a top regulator said. “When doing capital transactions, they’re required to report to the authorities prior to the trades, so now we are investigating whether they violated the law.” ICIJ’s investigative partner, the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism, revealed that it had identified at least 245 Koreans who established companies in the British Virgin Islands, Cook Islands and other offshore havens.
- Canadian Senator Vern White has called for a probe into a fellow legislator’s role in her husband’s use of an offshore hideaway in the South Pacific. The conservative Senator said he has asked the Senate's ethics officer to look into Liberal Senator Pana Merchant's role in the matter, saying there are "serious questions" to be dealt with. The Senate ethics office said in a statement that will give Merchant a chance to respond before deciding whether to launch a formal investigation. CBC News and ICIJ revealed last month that Merchant's husband, famed class-action lawyer Tony Merchant, had shifted some CA$1.7 million (US$1.1 million) into a Cook Islands trust while he was locked in battle with Canadian tax authorities.
The Chief Executive Officer of eastern Europe’s second-biggest lender, Raiffeisen Bank International AG, has resigned a day after officials began a probe into his investments revealed through Offshore Leaks.Documents show Herbert Stepic, who has worked with the Raiffeisen banking group for four decades and took its eastern European division public, used companies in Hong Kong and the British Virgin Islands (BVI) to conduct property deals he did not report to his employer.
Stepic did not answer any questions at a press conference called by the bank this morning. In a statement, he referred to the potential damage to the bank because of the "media debate" around the Offshore Leaks revelations and that he took the responsibility to resign to avoid this.
He repeated an earlier statement that he made his offshore investments with income that had been taxed in Austria, and said he was resigning "for personal reasons".
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy says there has been a "real breakthrough" in the EU's efforts to combat offshore tax evasion. At the council's May 22 meeting, Reuters reports, Rompuy said the current aggressiveness of the EU's push is "unprecedented. We couldn't speak in those terms on those issues, let's say, a month or two months ago. . . . There is a strong political will by the leaders, not only the Europeans but also on a global level, to go forward in attacking tax fraud and tax evasion."
- Luxembourg has announced that it will begin automatically sharing information with U.S. tax authorities about bank accounts held by American citizens. The tiny western European nation, long known as a haven for banking secrecy, had previously pledged to do the same in regards to citizens of European Union members. “Luxembourg wishes to see the same conditions apply to all competing financial centers and to see the automatic exchange of information accepted as the international standard,” Luxembourg’s finance ministry said. Reuters news service said that the U.S. had stepped pressure on Luxembourg to become more transparent after the release of ICIJ’s high-profile investigation of offshore financial secrecy.
- The Council of the European Union issued a statement May 14 calling for efforts at the national, EU and international levels “to combat tax fraud and tax evasion” and “aggressive tax planning.” The statement noted that the council’s presidency plans to ask ICIJ to supply EU member states “with the names and details regarding all EU citizens on the ‘offshore leaks’ list.” ICIJ has said that it will not turn over the data to government agencies, but that it is exploring the possibility of publicly releasing some entity ownership data.
After meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House, British Prime Minister David Cameron made a strong call to tackle what he called “the scourge of tax evasion,” one of the key topics in next month’s G8 meeting in Ireland. “We need to know who really owns a company, who profits from it, whether taxes are paid. And we need a new mechanism to track where multinationals make their money and where they pay their taxes so we can stop those that are manipulating the system unfairly,” Cameron said.
British, U.S. and Australian tax authorities
that they are pursuing tax evasion investigations based on a cache of offshore documents that link to the Cook Islands, Singapore and the Cayman Islands, among other jurisdictions. The secret records are believed to include those obtained by ICIJ
and that are the basis of the Offshore Leaks investigation. British tax authorities said the files “reveal extensive use of complex offshore structures to conceal assets by wealthy individuals and companies.” The three agencies plan to share the information with their counterparts from other countries in what could be the beginnings of one of the largest tax investigations in history.
- Canada's revenue minister Gail Shea announced a $30 million commitment to fight tax evasion and target the practice of hiding money in offshore accounts, and the formation of an international tax expert "SWAT team". Asked if her department now has the list of 450 Canadian names contained within the documents obtained by ICIJ, Shea said: "We currently don’t have the list and I can assure you that we’re looking at all of our options. We’re working with our international partners to get that list."
- The UK Treasury announced that following the lead of the Cayman Islands, all British overseas territories – including Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands – have agreed to share information about individuals holding bank accounts in their jurisdictions with the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
- The South China Morning Post reported that the new information exchanges will have real implications for Hong Kong and China companies, which do significant business through the Cayman islands, the British Virgin Islands and other offshore locales.
- European finance ministers may reach an agreement to eradicate tax havens on May 13, after a meeting in Helsinki between finance ministers from Finland, Luxembourg, Greece, Slovakia, and Lithuania as well as the European Commissioner on Taxation to discuss measures against tax evasion.
- The European Commissioner on Taxation Algirdas Šemeta and Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan sent a letter to all EU Finance Ministers, setting out 7 key areas for immediate action in improving the fight against tax fraud, evasion and avoidance. Member States were asked to agree on these actions at the ECOFIN in May. The letter credits the offshore leaks investigation with "sharpening the focus" on tax fraud, and says it will ask ICIJ to supply names and details of European citizens from its data.
- Finance ministers and central bankers at the G20 meeting in Washington said in a communiqué that automatic exchange of tax-relevant bank information should be adopted as the global standard to overcome international tax evasion. Skeptical European leaders reportedly "became more enthusiastic" after the public outcry over ICIJ's offshore leaks revelations.
- Bayartsogt Sangajav, deputy speaker of the Mongolian Parliament, has been dismissed from his post following ICIJ's revelations about his undeclared offshore company and bank account. In a parliamentary session he was asked to explain his actions. Several MPs called for further disciplinary action, including expelling him from Parliament entirely.
- Santosh Kumar Agarwal (Kedia), a member of the board of directors for the Antwerp World Diamond Centre, has resigned from the organization after his offshore dealings were revealed. “In the interest of the integrity of the Antwerp World Diamond Centre as [an] organization and the industry as a whole, Kedia has taken the initiative to withdraw from the AWDC's board of directors, awaiting the outcome of a potential investigation,” said a statement released by the company.”
French president Francois Hollande has published the personal financial details of government ministers on the official government website, following the Jerome Cahuzac and Jean-Jacques Augier offshore assets scandals. The list of assets includes details of bank accounts, life insurance, property and other expensive items such as cars, art works and antiques. Various properties in Paris and the south of France have already been itemized by ministers, as well as designer lounge chair (Industrial Renewal Minister Arnaud Montebourg) and a David Beckham t-shirt (Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti).
- European Council president Herman Van Rompuy announced that tax evasion will be discussed at the next European Council in May, saying "we must seize the increased political momentum to address this crucial problem."
BVI government officials have announced they are opening a new business headquarters in Hong Kong, with Orlando Smith, BVI Premier and Finance Minister, confirmed to officiate the opening. Executive director of BVI International Finance Centre, Elise Donovan, said the data obtained by the ICIJ was "a small fraction" of the total number of BVI firms. She later added, "We want to reassure clients in Hong Kong and the region that this is an isolated incident. We remain committed to clients' privacy and confidentiality."
- The Swiss and U.S. governments are investigating a possible solution to the dispute over wealthy Americans using Swiss banks to hide their money. These talks come at time when Switzerland’s banking sector is under increased pressure to surrender personal information about suspected tax evaders. Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said all countries should be treated equally in the drive for bank transparency. "We consider it very important that rules must apply to all and are engaging ourselves for a level playing field in multilateral forums," Widmer-Schlumpf said.
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged UK's PM David Cameron to crack down on tax havens during talks in Berlin, following a public outcry in Germany over the "offshore leaks." Sources "close to Cameron" claim he was actually the first to raise the issue, spelling out how his government was cracking down on tax avoidance in places such as Jersey and Guernsey.
- Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov is moving his offshore assets back to Russia after ICIJ's revelations that Shuvalov's wife Olga Shuvalova was either a shareholder or owner of several secretive offshore entities. The Shuvalovs had a declared income of $12.7 million in 2011, most of which was earned by Olga.
- Spanish political party Unión Progreso y Democracia submitted written questions to the Spanish Congress today in the wake of French president François Hollande's announcement that French banks had to declare their tax haven subsidiaries. The questions read: Is the government going to present in the European institutions any initiative to eradicate the tax havens within the Member States? and Is the government going to force banks to disclose the subsidiaries they have in tax havens and what are their activities?
- French president François Hollande called for "eradication" of the world's tax havens and told French banks they must declare all of their subsidiaries. He also announced the creation of a special prosecutor to pursue cases of corruption and tax fraud. French government ministers have been ordered to declare their assets publicly within days.
- Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker announced his country plans to lift bank secrecy rules for European Union citizens who have savings based in the country, ending decades of bank secrecy in Luxembourg. "We are following a global movement," Juncker told parliament in a state-of-the-nation address. The new transparency regime would begin in January 2015. Austria is now the only EU country not sharing data about bank depositorecent interview, Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister Spindelegger Fekter said: “How much money someone has in the bank is a matter between the bank and the customer and is no one else’s business."
Algirdas Semeta, European Union Tax Commissioner stated in a recent interview that it is time to move “quicker and harder” against tax evasion. He said the “growing willingness to act” increases the likelihood of a more coordinated EU stance against tax havens.
Europe’s five biggest economic powers — Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain — announced they would begin regularly exchanging banking and tax information as a way of identifying tax dodgers and other financial wrongdoers.
- Meanwhile, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) authorities are not fans of the ICIJ investigation. The BVI premier and Finance Minister Orlando Smith told the South China Morning Post that "BVI authorities are actively investigating how this private information has been illicitly obtained and used to attack the BVI financial services industry, which operates compliantly within international guidelines and the law."
- Athens’ district attorney Panayota Fakou has started a preliminary probe to find out if Greeks who own offshore companies unearthed by the ICIJ investigation have evaded taxes or laundered money. According to the Greek newspaper Ta Nea, prosecutors will send information requests to British Virgin Islands’ financial authorities asking them to turn over records of 107 entities connected to Greek citizens.
An investigation by Finnish State Televisionand ICIJ exposing the offshore connections of state-owned postal company Itella has been received with surprise by the Finnish Finance Minister, Jutta Urpilainen. The minister said that “state owned companies should be an example for other companies. That is why it is especially unacceptable that Itella owns a company in a tax haven.” Urpilainen said the Finnish government should adopt clear rules on the use of offshore jurisdictions by state-owned corporations and called tax havens “one of the biggest threats to the Finnish welfare state.”
- Canada's national revenue minister Gail Shea says the government may pursue the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in court to force it to share the offshore leaks records.
- Quebec Premier Pauline Marois has declared that neither she, nor any other elected officials in her government have dealings in the offshore world. Marois also supported the handover of internal documents to Canadian authorities, stating the Quebec government would not hesitate to use "all legal means" to ensure this.
- French budget minister Bernard Cazeneuve joins the clamor from governments around the globe in urging ICIJ and its media partners to release the offshore tax haven files to them, to "aid justice and help them do their job." Le Monde's response: "It is up to the justice system to establish responsibilities at a time when the law might have been broken ... It is up to the press to enlighten the reader..."
- Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann says he is ready to make concessions on banking secrecy, to bring the nation in step with Switzerland and Luxembourg. "Austria should participate in talks on banking secrecy,” Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann declared to Die Presse.
- The European Commissioner for Taxation, Algirdas Šemeta, called for an automatic exchange of information between countries and a "tough common stance." "Recent developments, fuelled by the outcome of the Offshore Leaks, confirms the urgency for more and better action against tax evasion .... Now it is time to put words into action." He said he was "very pleased" to see many of the Member States reviewing where they stand on the issues and "intensifying their political will to act."
- The Swiss government has distinguised itself from other world governments by publicly stating it does not want access to the offshore leaks records. Finance minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said Switzerland has worked hard in recent years to curb fraud and tax evasion and that much of the activity pointed to in the leaked documents can be perfectly legal. She says the Swiss government does not want access to the data as "it was acquired illegally and Bern wants no part of that".
- The Philippine Presidential Commission on Good Government probe into the disclosure that Maria Imelda Marcos Manotoc, the eldest daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was a beneficiary of a secret offshore trust in the British Virgin Islands, will release its report within two weeks. “We are duty bound to investigate and, depending upon informed preliminary findings, decide whether to pursue the matter,” said Andres Bautista, the chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, tasked with recovering the Marcos family’s alleged ill-gotten wealth.
- The president of the Association of German Banks denied that his group’s members had helped customers engage in tax evasion. “First in line are the individuals and the organizations that invest their money in tax oases,” Andreas Schmitz said."
- The Berne internal revenue service authorities announced they will re-open the Gunter Sachs case after ICIJ's revelations about the former Mr. Brigitte Bardot's intricate offshore scheme.
- In Canada, a Liberal senator urged his caucus colleague, Senator Pana Merchant, to answer questions in the wake of CBC News and ICIJ reports that she has been listed as beneficiary of an offshore trust created by her husband, a well-known class-action attorney. "We're all innocent until proven guilty in this country, but I want to hear her explanation," Senator Percy Downe told CBC News in an interview.
- In the Philippines, two lawmakers dismissed a report by an ICIJ media partner, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), that they had offshore holdings. Senator Manuel Villar said his offshore entity was a “1-dollar shell company” that he wasn’t required to report, because he hadn’t made any real investment in it. Villar said that he hadn’t conducted business with the British Virgin Islands company “because I decided to concentrate in the Philippines.” Congressman Joseph Victor ‘JV’ G. Ejercito suggested the story about him was politically motivated. “To the best of my knowledge, I have truthfully and accurately declared all my assets, liabilities, and net worth” on required disclosures forms for public officials, he said in a statement.
- Germany's Economics Minister Philipp Rösler urged the media to pass the data on to the government, stressing that tax evasion was a "criminal act."
- Luxembourg's Finance Minister Luc Frieden says he is open to greater transparency of its banks in order to cooperate further with foreign tax authorities.
- The Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said an inquiry had been initiated by the authorities against individuals whose names figured in the global media report. “Yes. We have taken note of the names and inquiries have been put in motion in respect of the names that have been exposed,” he told a press conference.
- The Mongolian Deputy Speaker, Bayartsogt Sangajav, admitted to an "ethics failure" over his undeclared million-dollar Swiss bank account. He told a press conference: “It is true that there is 1,658 Euros or 2.9 million MNT in a Swiss bank account. I opened the account to trade in international stocks with three other acquaintances in 2008. My failure of responsibility is that I did not include the company in my declaration of income. I have admitted my ethic failure and I am ready to take responsibility."
- Philippine government officials said they will investigate evidence that Maria Imelda Marcos Manotoc, a provincial governor and daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was the beneficiary of a secret BVI offshore trust.
- George Mavraganis, the Deputy Finance Minister of Greece announced that the Greek government is moving to address offshore-driven tax dodging. Greek members of parliament asked Mavraganis what he planned to do about the 103 offshore companies that ICIJ found hadn’t been registered with Greece’s tax authorities.
- George Sourlas from Greece’s Ministry of Justice said the revenue loss caused by offshore was huge. “By the actions of offshore companies in Greece, the revenue loss to the Greek government is in the order of 40% or more of the debt of our country,” Sourlas said. “The offshore companies cast a shadow at this time of great crisis, when some get rich and many get poor.”
- In France, President Francois Hollande denied knowledge of the offshore accounts held by his 2012 campaign manager, Jean-Jacques Augier, asserting that it’s up to the tax administration to monitor Augier’s private activities. Reports about Augier’s offshore dealings by Le Monde, the BBC and other ICIJ partners came in the wake of news about tax fraud charges against Hollande’s ex-budget Minister, Jerome Cahuzac.
- The office of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev asserted there was nothing unusual about the information in the leak – which showed that his two daughters were shareholders of three offshore companies. The statement said the President’s daughters “are grown up and have the right to do business.” A spokesperson for Azersun – a holding company controlled by Hasan Gozal, a corporate mogul who was listed as the director of the daughters’ companies – said the report was biased and based on inaccurate information. “I regret that authority of Press Council doesn't go beyond Azerbaijan and there is no such institution worldwide to fight racketeer journalists,” the spokesman said.
- Ex-Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez publicly defended his sons’ involvement in offshore business. Uribe stated that his sons Tomás and Jerónimo are entrepreneurs and “have participated in business dealings since they were children” and “they are not tax evaders.”
- In the UK, David Cameron is facing renewed pressure to take action over Britain’s entanglements within the offshore world. Lord Oakeshott, a senior Liberal Democrat said that the secrecy haven of the British Virgin Islands “stains the face of Britain.” Oakeshott and others are questioning whether Cameron will raise the issue in June of at the G8 summit of wealth nations. "How can David Cameron keep a straight face calling for the G8 to make big business pay tax when we let the BVI use British law and British protection to suck in billions in dirty money?" Oakeshott asked.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble stated on public radio that he was “pleased” with the ICIJ reports. He went on to say, “I think that such things as have been made known will increase the pressure internationally, and we will be able to increase the cooperation with those who have been more reticent,” a sentiment reflected in Germany’s previous lobbying to stamp out tax avoidance.
- Canadian Federal Revenue Minister Gail Shea called the released of offshore banking information as “good news” for Canadians and bad news for tax evaders. Ms. Shea urged ICIJ or anyone else with information on tax cheats to come forward.
- Pascal Saint-Amans, director of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, said: "Secrecy is no longer acceptable. We need to get rid of it. If the rules make it possible, then we'll change the rules.”
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